For 20 years, Jacquelyn Clymore has worked with Raleigh’s HIV/AIDS care community. On Oct. 23, her two-decade relationship with community-based AIDS services and care came to an end. In November, Clymore will begin work as the “state AIDS director,” taking her position as head of the the HIV/STD Prevention and Care branch of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Clymore replaces longtime director Evelyn Foust, a strident advocate for those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Her departure from Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina is bittersweet, said new Alliance interim executive director John Paul Womble, an HIV-positive gay man who has worked on advocacy and treatment issues for years.
“I personally feel like I’ve lost my personal mentor, my best friend,” Womble said.
Clymore’s first career calling wasn’t in medical care or HIV treatment and prevention. In the 1980s, she worked for several advertising agencies in New York City where many of her close friends and colleagues were gay.
When the AIDS crisis hit, Clymore was personally affected.
“I was working with lots of creative people. Many were gay men,” she said. “Starting in 1984, suddenly they would get sick and would die.”
A close friend and colleague became sick and Clymore took extra notice.
“After he died, there was a lot of that office chit-chat,” she said. “They would whisper, ‘He was gay.’ This was an award-winning creative artist people were talking about in this way. He was a great guy, a great professional. I was offended by the way people were discussing his illness and his death. I thought it was wrong and I told myself I needed to be involved in this and learn more about it.”
Clymore left New York City and enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Earning her Masters of Science, with a specialty in rehabilitation, counseling and psychology, she began work with the AIDS Service Agency of Wake County.
At the time, the agency was a new organization just established to service those with HIV and AIDS. Later, the agency merged with others to form the current Alliance of AIDS Services.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” Clymore said. “The organization just kept growing and I got to grow with it.”
Each time she thought it was time to apply her skills in new ways, Clymore said she was able to take new positions at the group and continue her service there. Five years ago, she was named executive director.
Looking back at her career, Clymore easily sees a change in how the nation and society have grown since the early days of the epidemic.
“We still have a long ways to go,” she admitted, “but I think we are more than halfway there. When I think back to those days 20 or 25 years ago, there was no conception that maybe straight people were at risk. Now, we do all know that if you are sexually active, you are risk period.”
Womble praises Clymore for her ability to connect with all types of people. It is a much-needed talent in a field where many at-risk populations are racial, ethnic or sexual minorities.
“Jacquelyn is an ally to diversity,” Womble said. “She’s keenly aware of issues related to the LGBT community, to the African-American community, to the Hispanic community.”
He thinks the state will benefit from Clymore’s experience. “They’ve gained a new brand and style of leadership, equal to any in the past and surpassing anything in the future.”
Her experience as a community-based service provider will be of benefit to Clymore when it comes time to allocate funds, Womble said: “In an economic downturn, when dollars are very tight, I can think of no one better. She’s coming from the non-profit world and she’s used to working with limited resources. Who better to sit in a chair on a statewide level and help the state learn how to manage resources like a non-profit?”
Clymore’s ready for the challenge and she knows governmental work will be a change from her past as a non-profit leader. She said putting a caring face on big government is one of her goals.
Womble has full faith in Clymore and her ability to get the job done. Although sad to see her leave her non-profit roots, Womble said he has full faith in Clymore’s ability to get the job done. Lost friends and loved ones would agree, he said.
“She’s efficient, expedient and focused on the clients and community,” he said. “I’d just like to say on behalf of all the clients we have lost that is is shame they can’t be here to say goodbye and to say thank you to her service to the Alliance and good luck with the state.”